J. Landrum Holmes and his wife, Sallie, went to China before 1860 as pioneer Southern Baptist missionaries in Chefoo in the Shantung providence of northern China.
Mr. and Mrs. Jesse B. Hartwell joined them in 1860, living in Tengchow.
In a few short years the lives of Sallie Holmes and two missionary sisters, Edmonia and Charlotte (Lottie) Moon, would intersect.
On the first day of October in 1861, J. Landrum Holmes and another missionary tried to stop invaders and robbers from an attack on the village of Chu Kia on the Shantung Peninsula during the Taiping Rebellion.
He was brutally murdered.
With his death, Landrum Holmes became the first Southern Baptist missionary to meet a violent death while taking the gospel to the nations.
Sallie Holmes, now a widow, was expecting a child. She later reflected on her decision to stay in China saying: “I would not go back. I would stay and work.” Contrary to advice and counsel, she remained, gave birth to a son named Landrum, and moved to Tengchow in 1862.
Sallie supervised a boarding school for girls, but was especially known for traveling out to villages to share the gospel with women and teach them in homes. She is said to have traveled to as many as 400 villages in one year.
Soon Tengchow was home to another missionary couple, T.P. and Martha Crawford, who arrived in 1863 after a decade in Shanghai. Sallie Holmes and Martha Crawford both became involved in ministry to Chinese women, which was called a missionary strategy of “woman’s mission to woman.”
H.A. Tupper, who became Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 1872, was open to appointing single women as missionaries, something that had not occurred since 1849.
The idea was to appoint women to minister to women in a way similar to what Sallie Holmes and Martha Crawford were doing.
Mrs. Crawford challenged Baptist women in the United States to send two single women to help her in woman’s work.
Edmonia Moon sought appointment, with women from five Baptist churches in Richmond, Va., agreeing to raise her support. Edmonia “Eddie” Moon became a SBC single female missionary on April 9, 1872.
Edmonia Moon joined the Crawfords, Sallie Holmes, and others to serve in Tengchow. She lived in the same compound as the Crawfords when she first arrived and did good work in mastering the Chinese language.
Meanwhile, Eddie was corresponding with her sister, Lottie, about serving in China with strong words: “I cannot convince myself that it is the will of Heaven that you [Lottie] not come …. I don’t know of anyone who could fill the place offered to you here.”
Lottie Moon was teaching at a high school for females in Cartersville, Ga., where she acknowledged her call to become a foreign missionary, telling her pastor that her call to China was “as clear as a bell.”
She was appointed on July 7, 1873, and soon joined Eddie and other SBC missionaries in Tengchow, the birthplace of Confucius.
Within three weeks of her arrival, Martha Crawford, Sallie Holmes, and Edmonia Moon were taking Lottie on a “picnic,” which meant going to several villages to share the gospel, focusing on the women and children.
Lottie had reflected on such ministry before going to China when she wrote, “Could a Christian woman possibly desire a higher honor than to be permitted to go from house to house and tell of a savior to those who have never heard his name?”
Sallie Holmes balanced working in the villages and living among the people with coming back to Tengchow where her home served as a retreat.
She was a major influence in Lottie Moon adopting a similar model for women’s ministry.
One such trip found them surrounded by 30 people watching them eat breakfast in a home. A Chinese woman told Lottie “We have never seen any heavenly people before.”
Edmonia Moon led a school, but she suffered from culture shock and health problems that would lead to her return to the States in 1875, accompanied by her sister Lottie.
Sallie Holmes, widow of the first Baptist missionary murdered in China, “burned out by 1881 and returned to the United States to try to salvage a sane existence for her son.”
It seems remarkable that she remained in China for 20 years as a widow, raising her son who was born after her husband’s violent death.
Lottie Moon moved to Pingtu in December 1885, which was 120 miles from Tengchow, and which was the twelfth-largest population center in the world at the time. She ministered there as well as in numerous villages. Once, while encouraging local Christians during a time of persecution in 1890, she stood between young believers and an anti-Christian mob saying, “If you attempt to destroy this church, you will have to kill me first. Jesus gave his life for us Christians. Now I am ready to die for him.”
During that encounter a young man raised his sword and Lottie Moon told the frightened believers, “Only believe; do not fear. Our Master, Jesus, always watches over us, and no matter the persecution, Jesus will surely overcome it.”
The man dropped his sword.
Some of the believers in Pingtu, however, suffered torture and were killed for their faith. Nevertheless, Lottie Moon stood with the persecuted church and was willing to die with fellow believers.
The death of J. Landrum Holmes as the first Southern Baptist international missionary murdered for the cause of Christ did not stop his widow, Sallie, from faithfully taking the gospel to Chinese women for 20 more years.
Sallie Holmes became a mentor to a young missionary, Lottie Moon, who would follow her example in village evangelism.
Lottie Moon then became a pioneer missionary in Pingtu, where she would stand with persecuted Christians.
And later, Lottie Moon would have an international missions offering named in her honor in 1918: the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
In this season of newness and fresh starts, let us express gratitude for the sacrifices made by early Southern Baptist missionaries for people in northern China so that they might know that Christ was born to be the Savior of all who would receive Him.
Pray for missionaries who continue to share the gospel with the unreached.
Philip A. Pinckard, Ph.D. is director of the NOBTS Global Missions Center and Professor of Missions at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.